French Philosopher Alain Badiou on the Real Expression of Love: ‘If You Limit Yourself to Sexual Pleasure It’s Narcissistic’
Love, says France’s greatest living philosopher, “is not a contract between two narcissists. It’s more than that. It’s a construction that compels the participants to go beyond narcissism. In order that love lasts one has to reinvent oneself.”
Alain Badiou, venerable Maoist, 75-year-old soixante-huitard, vituperative excoriator of Sarkozy and Hollande and such a controversial figure in France that when he was profiled in Marianne magazine they used the headline “Badiou: is the star of philosophy a bastard?”, smiles at me sweetly across the living room of his Paris flat. “Everybody says love is about finding the person who is right for me and then everything will be fine. But it’s not like that. It involves work. An old man tells you this!”
In his new book, Badiou writes about his love life. “I have only once in my life given up on a love. It was my first love, and then gradually I became so aware this step had been a mistake I tried to recover that initial love, late, very late - the death of the loved one was approaching - but with a unique intensity and feeling of necessity.” That abandonment and attempt at recovery marked all the philosopher’s subsequent love affairs. “There have been dramas and heart-wrenching and doubts, but I have never again abandoned a love. And I feel really assured by the fact that the women I have loved I have loved for always.”
But isn’t such laborious commitment a pointless fuss in this age of ready pleasures and easily disposable lovers? “No! I insist on this - that solving the existential problems of love is life’s great joy,” he says and then looks across the coffee table at his translator, Isabelle Vodoz, with a big, half-ironic grin. “There is a kind of serenity in love which is almost a paradise,” he adds, popping a biscuit in his mouth and giggling. She giggles, too. “I am not only his translator,” she tells me later. Below this sixth-floor apartment, an RER train screeches along the rails out of Denfert-Rochereau station.